Finding the Love of God in the Loss of my Mother
Letter from Melissa Rhodes
Dearest Sisters in Christ,
Have any of you ever had a recurring dream, or nightmare I should say, that seemed to haunt you through the changing seasons of your life? I can remember having the same nightmare as early as childhood, following me into adulthood. In my nightmare, I’m lost, wandering the chaotic streets with a sense that a major worldwide catastrophe is about to occur, and I am urgently searching for my loved ones. But I cannot find them. I’m alone. I’m completely alone. Then, with a pounding heart, the overwhelming sense of panic and emptiness awaken me and I am relieved by the realization that it was just a dream. I can get up, go across the hallway and find my mom. I’m home. Everything is okay.
I felt so lost and like I didn’t belong for so much of my life, always searching but not knowing what I was searching for, yet it was amidst the greatest heartbreaking agony of my life that I received the greatest gift and was filled with the greatest joy. You see, sisters, about two years ago, that catastrophe of my nightmare struck ending my world as I knew it.
At the beginning of 2017, my mom got sick. She missed a few days of work and then, because she wasn’t feeling any better, went to see her primary care doctor. After seeing my mom’s blood work, the doctor called her and told her to go to the ER immediately. Weary from my own sleepless night of coughing and congestion, I tried to hide my fear as I saw my mom sitting on the edge of her bed, terrified and crying. With sickness and vulnerability so evident in her demeanor she pleaded with me, “I don’t want to go! I’m scared!” What could I do? What could I say? I promised her it would be okay, told myself it would be okay, and I drove her to the hospital before the break of dawn. In this waking nightmare, from the early hours of the morning and into the evening, I sat by her bedside in a tiny hospital room, overcrowded with equipment. Various hospital staff filtered in, not from chaotic streets, but from chaotic hallways, as they ran test, after test, and drew more, and more blood. Finally, the doctor came in, and instead of getting to breathe a sigh of relief upon an announcement of “false alarm,” there was a diagnosis of stage IV kidney cancer and the realization that I wouldn’t wake up from this. I would wake up to this. Although she was right there beside me, she was slowly slipping away. I would never get to go back to the home I knew.
As my mom lay there in a hospital bed, bruises all along the veins in her arm, with an IV dripping fluids into her, she said, “I’m worried about you!” My mom just found out she was dying, and she was worried about me. I had no idea what to say, although I longed so much to comfort her because I was worried about me too. Feeling so broken most of my life, she was my constant source of strength keeping me going. I was terrified. I wasn’t strong enough for this. I didn’t know how to live in the reality of possibly losing my mom. I started to pray. In my weak, lazy, selfish, almost empty faith I sent up a prayer for God to give me one more year with her. I thought, “One more year with her and I can prepare myself.” I thought, “One more year with her and we can say all that needs to be said so nothing will be left unsaid.”
A week later, she was released from the hospital, and a month later we were referred to a research hospital specializing in advanced cancer care. On our way back home from her first round of scans and appointments in Houston, we stopped in College Station to drop off my brother. As we got into town, a few blocks from my brother’s apartment, I noticed my mom’s car was sluggish to accelerate and out of the corner of my eye I saw a light come on: Check Engine. We got it to a shop where they told us it was the transmission and we would be stranded there for a few days until they could get a replacement.
Overwhelmed and exhausted, my mom spent days resting in our hotel room. I went with my brother to different events at the church where he had been attending Mass and RCIA. He had already shared with me some of what he was learning and I was interested in learning more. I believe it was no coincidence that we were stranded there because after my experiences I knew I had to start RCIA as soon as I could because of the peace and joy I felt there at a time when I never thought I would have peace again. When we made it home, I began attending RCIA with my mom, who went to support me as she returned to the faith. Through this journey of faith together, we grew closer than ever. We went to Bible studies, and Eucharistic Adoration together. We attended grief support, where she inspired others with her strength and joy through such agony.
As I grew in faith, my prayer for her changed. I prayed for God to heal my mom, but if that wasn’t His will, I asked that He let her live to see me baptized. And she did. In 2018 I received my sacraments at the Easter Vigil. A few weeks later, we were back at the research hospital where her oncologist told us the immunotherapy wasn’t working and he was going to try one more treatment, but if that didn’t work, we should look into hospice. This time, seeing how much my mom was suffering, and having faith in His great love, I was able to let go, trust, and pray to God, “Thy will be done.”
Less that two months after my baptism my mom was once again on a hospital bed. This time in her house, about to receive Viaticum. She told our pastor that it was okay. She was ready because she got to see me baptized and knew I’d be okay. A few days later, on Sunday, May 13th (Mother’s Day), my mom passed away.
Sisters, through tremendous sorrow, my eyes were opened to the greatest and most selfless true love, shown on the cross of Jesus Christ. My Jesus, who as He was dying was thinking not of Himself, but of others. Of us. Of you. Of me. My Jesus, who loves everyone no matter how blind to Him. I saw that selfless love reflected in my mom, who in her agony kept thinking of others. My mom, who, as she lay dying, was thinking of me. My mom who loved so selflessly in the tiniest things that went unnoticed until she was gone. And, sisters, that loss shattered me, but it is also what opened my eyes to the incomprehensible love of the eternal Father. My Father, who pursued me, brought me into His family and gave me a new home before I lost the only family and home I thought I had. My Father, who turns tears of sorrow into tears of joy.
He saved me before I knew I needed to be saved. For that, I love Him with my whole heart. He deserves so much more love that my weak, human heart could ever give Him. He deserves so much more love, so I know I must do all I can to bring others to greater love of Him, by loving in such a way that I reflect His love to others.
My patron saint and sister in heaven, St. Therese of Lisieux wrote, “At last I have found my vocation. My vocation is love, in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be love, and then I will be all things.” In her littleness of self she made more room for Christ’s love. She reflected His love, and continues to reflect His love to many. Though her way may be little, never mistake it for being easy. Surrendering completely and dying to self is painful. It goes against everything we’re taught it today’s culture. But I’ve seen that sometimes it’s in losing everything that we’re able to receive the greatest thing. I have seen the greatest love and I have to share it.
My Sisters, let us love in such a way that we may reflect His love to others.
About the Writer: Melissa Rhodes
Born and raised in Texas, Melissa earned her bachelors degree in Film, with the dream of becoming a screenwriter. Now, living a dream she never knew she had until God put it on her heart, Melissa works as an Assistant Youth Director, hoping to help teens know in their hearts the depth of God’s love for them. A recent convert, she is eager to continue growing in faith with the help of God’s grace, and seeks to do His will in all things. Melissa also shares the faith with others seeking to convert, as an RCIA Catechist. Melissa attends Daily Mass and loves spending time with our Lord Jesus Christ in Eucharistic Adoration. She also loves her brother, who will soon be starting seminary; her black lab, Jack; and rainy days spent watching cozy mysteries while making Rosaries and eating straight-from-the-oven gooey, chewy, chocolate chip cookies.